Heading off on a five-day visit to Croatia in the early hours of the morning was a daunting thought, writes Joe Watson Legacy Fund award winner Lauren Dean.
I had never got on a plane by myself before and I’m not the type to cope well on a lack of sleep. But Croatia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and I definitely haven’t shut up about it since my return.
Having not come from a farming background but having spent nearly two years on the job, I was excited to see and experience different sides to the sector in a completely different environment.
Looking back, I think the main thing that struck me out there was the determination of small family farms to keep their heads above water. Although struggling, they rally round to get the job done and diversify to top up the business.
Most use their attributes within the family to make ends meet, selling not just from the farm gate but also at local markets within the community who play a huge part in keeping small farms alive.
Back on home ground I had spend a lot of time in contact with young farmers – people I was surprised to learn Croatian farms are struggling to hold on to.
It was great to see how Gligora dairy on the island of Pag produced the world famous Pag cheese from its farmers hand-milking the Paška ovca from January to June
And it was fantastic to how the Cromaris fish farm processed and packaged its fish, exporting 80% to nearby countries.
We managed to experience proper Croatian culture with a stay at Moslavaĉka priĉa guesthouse – everything from the entertainment, the food, the chalets – and even a visit from Croatian MP Marijana Petir, who was vocal on the challenge facing small family farmers.
Over the five days, we also got to experience Croatian forestry, several vineyards and wineries, an apple orchard and an arable farm which produces the country’s own, very tasty, čipi
A particular highlight was taking part in the 70th anniversary live broadcast of Croatian Radio’s program for rural areas and agriculture with CAJA president Martin Vuković, talking all things Brexit.
Receiving a Joe Watson Legacy Fund award enabling me to attend the visit was quite simply the cherry on top.
It pushed me to challenge myself on the trip and opened a whole host of opportunities networking, interviewing and travelling I hope will carry on.
One thing is for sure: my first trip to Croatia definitely won’t be my last.